April 19, 2021
In the wake of Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama voting against unionization, company founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos stated that, “it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees — a vision for their success.” Seventy percent of workers at the Alabama warehouse voted against the union. Bezos, who will step down as chief executive — but remain as chair — in Q3 this year, touted the fact that Amazon helped 200+ million Amazon Prime members save $630 each during the year.
The Wall Street Journal reports that, “small and midsize businesses account for almost 60 percent” of the company’s sales. But the company’s growing dominance in e-commerce, cloud computing and other areas led a congressional committee to declare that Amazon now has “monopoly power” over sellers on its site and has also “bullied retail partners and improperly used seller data to compete with rivals.”
In his annual letter to shareholders, Bezos — who is the world’s richest person — included a feel-good story about how early investors have done well and emphasized that “Amazon works hard to serve its employees.” Further, he stated that “reports of unsafe working conditions at its hundreds of warehouses [are] inaccurate.” Many workers have charged that the company sets unreasonable performance goals.
Despite Amazon’s win in defeating the unionization attempt, Bezos said the company now “needs to invent solutions to reduce the number of injuries at Amazon warehouses … [where] about 40 percent of work-related injuries are caused by what he called musculoskeletal disorders.” He said the company is “developing staffing schedules that rotate employees among jobs that use different muscle groups to decrease repetitive motion.”
He added that the goals of being “the world’s best employer and its safest place to work, in addition to being its most consumer-centric company … will reinforce each other.”
The Verge reports that Bezos’ letter “outlines a strategy that seems odd for a company that has been accused of treating workers like robots: a robotic scheme that will develop new staffing schedules using an algorithm.” Specifically, Amazon will now rely on “sophisticated algorithms” to rotate employees to jobs that “use different muscle-tendon groups to decrease repetitive motion and help protect employees from MSD risks.”
Bezos said the “technology” will be introduced throughout 2021. Although Bezos wrote he wanted a new vision for employee success, the company also “issued a rare public apology earlier this month, after it was caught publicly lying to representative Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) that its workers have not ever had to pee in water bottles to meet their work demands.”
In fact, this is a “well-documented issue at Amazon because of how it robotically tracks and fires workers.” Amazon is also “facing a lawsuit over workers’ missed lunch breaks.” Although the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union lost the vote in Alabama, president Stuart Appelbaum said the union drive has been “devastating” for Amazon’s reputation.
How Amazon Strong-Arms Partners Using Its Power Across Multiple Businesses, The Wall Street Journal, 4/14/21